Scientists who developed method to visualize biomolecules win Nobel Prize in chemistry

EPA-EFE  Claudio Bresciani

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences made the announcement on Wednesday.The Chemistry award has now been awarded 109 times, and only one laureate, Frederick Sanger, a British biochemist, has won the prestigious award twice in 1950 and 1980.

Joachim Frank demonstrated that potential to NSF in 1984, when the agency helped him acquire a high-resolution electron microscope for 3-D reconstruction, and then continued to support his development of new applications for the technology over the following decades.

Through this method, researchers can now "stop" biomolecules in motion and "to visualize the process, which they've never seen before". The prestigious award was given to three persons namely Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson.

The electron microscope was designed in the early 1930s by the German physicist Ernst Ruska, for which he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer who shared the other half of the Prize). Due to their work, electron microscopes are now able to visualise proteins at atomic resolution.

This method allows bio-molecules to be kept frozen in their natural state without the need for dyes or fixatives. The water that surrounds the molecules evaporates, and the high energy electrons burn and destroy the molecules. Further advances have brought cryo-EM within reach of resolving single atoms, rivalling x-ray crystallography. By dropping samples in ethane cooled by liquid nitrogen to -196 degrees Celsius, Dubochet created breathtakingly sharp images.




He is the eighth Swiss national to win a Nobel Prize in chemistry.

But in the 1970s Dubochet showed that adding water to electron microscopy in a certain way that prevented that.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has produced an easy-to-read history about the role each of the three winners played in the development of cryo-electron microscopy; there is also an 18-page scientific summary of the research.

The detailed images may pave the way for developing new medicines, vaccines and industrial chemicals, but experts said such payoffs are largely in the future. The three winners of the $1.1 million (9 million kronor) prize adapted another technique, electron microscopy, which uses a beam of electrons rather than ordinary light to inspect samples.

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